Nrityagram, India's first modern Gurukul (residential school) for Indian Classicial dance was formed in the year 1990. It was set up by Odissi Danseuse Protima Gauri. Nrityagram is located near Hesaraghatta Lake, which is 30kms away from Bangalore.
The Dance school offers training in Odissi, Mohini Attam, Kathak, Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Manipuri. The practice is given for eight hours a day and for six days in a week. The course is for seven years.
The word 'Nrityagram' means 'dance village'. Amidst nature, its a place for community dancers, nothing exists there except dance, where one breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk and imagine only dance. All the five senses are refined to perfection. The place where negative thoughts like jealousy, small mindedness, greed and malice are dropped and to embrace each other as sisters and support them becoming dancers of merit.
In the year 1989, Protima Gauri Protima left Mumbai with the idea of starting the dance village. The State Government gave land on lease and by the year 1990 the institution had taken rooted. On May 11, 1990, it was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, V.P.Singh. The building was designed by Gerard Da Cunha, following the vernacular architecture of the region.
In December 1995, a delhi based theatre actress and light designer, Lynne Fernandez, first came to Nrityagram to coordinate Surupa Sen's debut and the Nrityagram ensemble's trip abroad. Lynne actively involved in managing the institution. In the year 1997, Protima suffered a mild heart attack and gradually she withdrew formally handing over Nrityagram to Lynne Fernandez. Thereafter Lynne became the Managing Trustee of the institution. In August, Protima set off on her pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar and it was there that she died in the Malpa landslide, near Pithoragarh on the night of August 18, 1997. Since then, Nrityagram has grown in its stature by leaps and bounds and is known today for some of the best ensemble work in perfection in dance along with a high level of good technical support, leading to a complete presentation, is its trademark. Even today, gurus and students work in the fields within the Nrityagram, which has 10 acres of land, and grow their own food. Over the years, only Odissi gurukul has been functional due to paucity of funds.
Surupa Sen, who first joined Nrityagram as a student, debuted in the year 1995. Sen, later became the artistic director of Nrityagram in the year 1997 and has remains to date. Orissa Dance Academy (ODA) student Bijayini Satpathy who was first student of Nritya gram, is now in charge of the Odissi gurukul. Some of Nrityagram's few but meritorious students include, Pavithra Reddy, who has had her solo debut in 2003 and who will be hopefully seen in some solo pieces on a wider platform very soon. She spent almost 12 years as a residential student at Nrityagram, and she has learnt under the tutelage of Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy. Ayona Bhaduri and Priyambada Patnaik were also students at this gurukul. They both joined Nrityagram in the year 1998 and have been a part of the ensemble since 2001.
In the year 1994, Protima started a cultural event, 'Vasanta Habba', the classical Woodstock of India. The cultural event is held annually and is held on the first saturday of February month. It is considered as the famous night-long festival of arts and it had about 40,000 visitors.
The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble made its New York debut in 1996 with Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy, Anitha Nair, Pavithra Reddy and Jaya Mukherjee. That was called, "one of the most luminous dance events of the year" by Jennifer Dunning, the dance critic of the New York Times. After its New York debut, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble has performed to sold-out shows in Hawai and Bozeman, USA, Middle East, Far East and Europe, and in time created a niche for itself in the world of dance. Today, apart from lead dancer-choreographers, Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, Pavitra Reddy, Rasmi Raj and Manasi Tripathy are the other permanent dancers of the Ensemble and are accompanied by musicians like Swain playing the percussion instrument, Mardala, Srinibas Satapathy's on Bamboo flute (Bansuri) and Sanjib Kumar Kunda on the violin.
The Ensembles' first full-length production "Sri - In Search of the Goddess", was premiered in Delhi in 2001 and in the United States in 2002-2003, to critical acclaim. Since then it created several productions including, "Ansh", "Sacred Space" (2005), and "Separation and the Duality of the human spirit" (2008). By 2008, the ensemble had made 12 tours of the US, its 2006 production, Vibhakta (The Division), by Surupa Sen which was performed together by Surupa Sen, the artistic director, and Bijayini Satpathy was enlisted in the "The Ten Best Dance Performances of 2008" by dance critic Joan Acocella of the The New Yorker and prior to it in February 2008, the Ensemble had the world premiere of "Protima: Reflection", at New York, Joyce Theater. It has also performed at Pittsburgh Dance Council (2002). As of 2010, the ensemble members included, Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy, Pavithra Reddy, Rasmi Raj and Manasi Tripathy.
Temple at Nrityagram entrance
There is a thoughtfully evolved temple at the entrance of Nrityagram. It was built in the year 1998. It welcomes people to the Nrityagram, near Hesaraghatta
Lake. The temple depicts the image of Kelucharan Mohapatra, guru of founder Protima, in a dancing pose.
The caption for the picture states:
"Fashioned from the raw mud of Nrityagram and fired after it was built, the temple is dedicated to space. It is decorated with panels depicting the elements, dance motifs, mudras and designs from costumes and ghungroos. Inside is a granite rock scooped out to hold water and a flame that stays lit."
Philosophy of Nrityagram:
Dance is a way of life, a matter of faith and belief, nurtured and enriched by the souls of its own people.
They believe in
1. being a good human being first than being a good dancer.
2. self-motivated lifestyle focused on dance and higher principles associated with the arts.
3. a self-sufficient existence where the resources are used to the utmost and share a relationship with the earth that is nurturing and mutually beneficial.
All the members at Nrityagram experience this way of life. So, being a complete human being is more important than being a complete dancer. The age-old gurukul tradition is being followed in Nrityagram, wherein students take care of their guru like preparing food, cleaning and earning through recitals. Along with the intensive dance training, they learn Indian Literature, mythology, poetry, Sanskrit, music, aesthetics, history of dance, philosophy, spiritual thought and dance theory. Regular workshops are conducted in martial arts, yoga, mime, meditation, sculpture, etc. These workshops, in other disciplines that use the body, help to improve stances and energy levels. They also inculcate an awareness of the interdisciplinary approach and an understanding of the inter-relatedness of all arts and physical traditions, not only of India, but also of other countries.
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